Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Value of the Calendar

We all have different ways of organizing our time based on our styles, our positions and our values. When we hear ourselves complaining that we don’t have time for the important things, there is a tool already available to help us sort things out – our calendar.

Whether we like to admit it or not, that visible representation of time known as our calendar is in fact a reflection of many parts of our lives such as, position, leadership style, and values. We don’t usually think of a calendar as a tool for discernment, but it shows us how we spend that very ‘valuable’ and ‘value-ful’ commodity – time which in turn is a reflection of what is important to us.

Take my calendar for example. It will show that I value knowing what is happening in my division and that I value developing relationships with staff members. Both of those take time so I meet weekly with the staff who report to me, both individually and as a group. I meet monthly with an extended staff group and I try to find creative ways to meet regularly with groups of staff in every level of position in the organization. In my role finding opportunities to interact with students is important so I say yes to nearly every request from students. I try to say yes to any invitation to lead a workshop or to give a presentation since these are ways to interact with staff and students and to transmit values to the organization.

There are other values that show up on my calendar – a hold on my lunch time so I can take a break in the middle of the day and “time for projects” on Friday afternoon. These blocks reflect an understanding of the need for changes of pace and for time to engage in reflection and planning. But at certain times of the year, this time gets squeezed out by those other values. So, I spent time over the weekend on e-mails and paperwork which is something I try to avoid – another value. But that small amount of time helped me be ready for the coming week which will be as busy as the past few have been.

We know our values are important to our leadership actions. If we listen to them and act accordingly our values help us make decisions large and small. They help us evaluate when choices have to be made. And when we begin to feel that things are out of whack, the calendar is one tool to understanding the decisions we have made and make changes as necessary.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Different Perspective

An important part of the leadership dance is the ability to change your point of view and to know when to take a break from the routine. Both help us gain a new perspective and be refreshed as we take on the challenges of our leadership role. So here is a little break from the routine - a few pictures from around our house. Enjoy, Gage

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Stepped On Anyone's Toes Lately?

This past week I taught a leadership workshop called The Leadership Dance. I start this workshop by dividing the participants into small groups and asking them to write down their responses to the words leader and follower. They have only one minute for each word. I’ve done this exercise many times and of course there are differences among the groups, but there are more similarities. For example, the ‘leader’ lists have mostly positive words and the ‘follower’ lists have more negative words. Similarly, the ‘leader’ lists are almost always longer than the ‘follower’ lists. I ask participants to discuss the ideas and issues that caught their attention as they listened to the various lists. There are many conclusions to be drawn and nuances to be discussed and most groups do an excellent job of identifying them.

However, there are two concepts that usually fall to me to point out. The first is the fact that there are rarely any negative words on the leader list, but there are negative kinds of leadership. In a class on leadership the paradigm seems to be ‘leader equals good’ even though we all can list examples of leaders who led their followers over a cliff or leaders/bosses who are toxic and make it miserable to be part of the organization. There is a negative side to leadership and even the most good-hearted leader has to face the reality of the harm they can cause if they aren’t careful.

The second concept is the ‘leader’ list itself. There are variations of course, but those are just details. The aggregate list is a list of positive attributes that are just a little bit short of a job description that reads “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, …” The reality is that most leaders are human beings who can’t quite live up to the level that we tend to expect of leaders, at least not every day!would be different now.

And that’s one of the points the workshop is designed to teach - our expectations of leaders can be unreasonable. The reality is that leaders can’t dance alone. To be a great leader one needs great followers. And of course, the converse is true - it’s hard to be a great follower when you don’t have a strong leader. By the end of the workshop, that idea of leadership as a partnership has become very clear to participants. In fact one of my favorite comments from an earlier workshop was by a participant who said the list of words he would use to describe followers

On the dance floor, the leader starts with the left foot and the follower starts with the right foot. This minimizes the problem of stepping on each other's toes. In our leadership world, our words reflect our ideas and can determine our steps. If you find yourself unhappy with the leaders or the followers in your organization, maybe you should take a take a look at your ‘lists’. Do your words reflect unreasonable expectations of a leader? Are you seeing followers as subordinate? Dancing and Leading - both work best as partnerships and both take patience and attention. Stepped on any toes lately?